It is 100 years since the famous rescue of his men by Ernest Shackleton in August 1916, but despite his Eastbourne connections there does not appear to be a report of the fact in the local papers.1
What are Ernest Shackleton’s connec- tions with Eastbourne? There are several books about the life of Shackleton but very little is said in them about Eastbourne, although there is sufficient to indicate that he visited the town at least twice before he and his family moved to Milnthorpe Road around 1916–17. This article is not intended to describe the various voyages, etc. of Shackleton, but of his connections with Eastbourne.
In 1907, his planned voyage to the South Pole on the Nimrod was partly sponsored by Elizabeth Dawson- Lambton who is reported to have lived in Eastbourne. I have not found an address for her but the reports in the local papers suggest that she may have been living at Hill Crest, Dalton Road, where Mr Aden Beresford lived. The Eastbourne Gazette says that he was Elizabeth’s cousin, although the Eastbourne Chronicle simply says friend. Elizabeth Dawson-Lambton is described in the Eastbourne Chronicle as ‘One of the most liberal subscribers to the expedition and it was because of this fact that Shackleton visited Eastbourne’. Another conflict between the Gazette and Chronicle is the day of the visit, but in this case it is obvious that the Chronicle is correct for they report on 3 August 1907 that the ship visited on the Tuesday, whereas the Gazette reporting on the 7th says Thursday (which, since the Chronicle had already reported the visit, is incorrect). The ship was intended to arrive in the morning of the 2nd but did not arrive until 6.45 when Miss Dawson- Lambton, Mr Beresford and family, Mr CH Evill, Mr and Mrs Swinford and Mr JC Jones, CB, and family visited the ship before it sailed at around 7.45 the same evening. Within the list of visitors was nanother connection with Ernest Shackleton in that Mr and Mrs Swinford were ‘Lieut. Shackleton’s cousins’, Swinford being the maiden name of his wife’s mother.2 It is possible that all the visitors had a connection with the family or the voyage but I am unable to find such for the other visitors: Mr CH Evill (possibly the Evill, Chas. Hy., JP, of 1 Grange Gardens) and Mr JC Jones, CB (who is not in the directory).
In 1914, prior to his second voyage to the South Pole, Ernest Shackleton again visited Eastbourne on the Endurance. Although he met his family, who were staying in Eastbourne, it would appear that this was not the main purpose of the visit. The date of his visit was 4 August 1914 and he had landed to discover the latest developments regarding the ultimatum that had been sent to Germany and which had expired at midnight Berlin time. Roland Huntford in his biography Shackleton says that Shackleton’s wife, Emily, and family had moved to Eastbourne (suggesting they had bought a house here) but the Gazette says they were staying in Eastbourne.
There are no entries for them in the directories for this year and I have not found them mentioned in the fashionable visitors’ lists. It is possible that they were staying with their cousins. During the visit, Shackleton visited the Grand Hotel where he drew some plans on the back of a hotel napkin.3
The Shackletons made a more positive connection with Eastbourne when they moved to 14 Milnthorpe Road, but again there is doubt as to when. Several sites detailing the blue plaque4 which was erected to commemorate their stay says 1916, whereas other websites say 1917,5 the year that Ernest returned from the South Pole.
Although the family lived in Eastbourne, Sir Ernest did not stay often and then only to relax from his life in London and to ‘keep up appearances’. Apparently Shackleton would get restless and would soon leave for London, phoning or writing to Emily while away. Roland Huntford says that Emily knew that she was only one of three women in Shackleton’s life, the others being Rosalind Chetwynd, who became an actress under the name of Rosa Lynd, and Janet Stancomb-Wills who would ‘lend’ him money. A further possible mistress, Hope Paterson, is mentioned in an article in the Daily Mail of 11 November 2011, when a collection of lovers’ keepsakes was found in a family attic. Shackleton apparently named Mount Hope after her.
The family continued to live in Eastbourne and in 1921 Shackleton made his last visit to the town aboard the Quest prior to leaving for a further voyage to the South Pole. When the Quest arrived off Eastbourne there was a heavy swell that prevented the ship pulling alongside the pier and so Shackleton was brought ashore by the Eastbourne Lifeboat. He was later to say that ‘The Quest is ready to bump the ice, but it is not ready to bump Eastbourne Pier!’ On this occasion there were as many as 500 visitors to the ship. These included Alderman Edward Duke, Mayor, who was photographed by the Gazette talking to Lady Shackleton. The proceeds from the visits to the Quest were donated to the local branch of the RNLI. The Eastbourne Division of the Girl Guides, of which Lady Shackleton was Divisional Commissioner, presented Sir Ernest with a prismatic compass as a token of affection and goodwill. A poem ‘To Sir Ernest Shackleton’ by WJ Wenham appeared in the Chronicle for 13 August 1921.
Unfortunately, Shackleton suffered from a heart seizure and died on 5 January 1922 and although the Gazette reports that his body was to be returned to England for burial, he was buried in Grytviken Cemetery, South Georgia, at his wife’s request. It was not long after this that the family moved out of Eastbourne. The Gazette ran a large obituary in their 1 February 1922 issue where the three photographs that appeared in their report of the visit of the Quest in August 1921 were reproduced.
Among the messages of condolence reported in the Gazette of 1 February 1922 was that of the Mayor, Alderman Duke, which said ‘I hasten to express my heartfelt sympathy with you in the great loss you have sustained by the death of your husband, which is reported in to- day’s papers. You have the deep sympathy, I am sure, not only of all the inhabitants of Eastbourne, but of the British Empire and of the civilised world. This may be some source of comfort to you in your unexpected and sad bereavement.’ The obituary appearing in the Eastbourne Chronicle appears to have kept to a short piece.5
- Although I have read through the microfiche copies of both the Eastbourne Gazette and Eastbourne Chronicle for the period of August to December 1916, I was unable to find any report. It is possible that I have missed the reports and since some
pages/parts of pages, are not clear it is possible that I missed the headline.
- There are two Swinfords listed in the 1907 directory: Captain T Francis Swinford at Minster Lodge, Grassington Road, and A Swinford at Corrie Lodge, Silverdale Road. I have been unable to clarify which of these is the cousin.
- From http://www.grandeastbourne.com/140-years-of-the-Grand.
- The first to be erected in Eastbourne.
- Including http://www.southlondonguide.co.uk/sydenham/Shackleton.htm.
- As in 1 above, it is possible that I have missed a larger item.
Picture sources, in order of appearance
Sir Ernest Shackleton – Eastbourne Gazette, 10 August 1922.
‘The Nimrod at Eastbourne’ – Eastbourne Chronicle, 3 August 1907. Shackleton aboard the Endeavour – Eastbourne Gazette, 5 August 1914.
Blue Plaque – appears on several sites but copied from http://openplaques.org/plaques/1185.
‘The Quest at Eastbourne’ – Eastbourne Gazette, 17 August 1921. (The same picture appeared in 1922 with the date of the visit given as 17 August rather than 14 August.)
Alderman Duke talking to Lady Shackleton – Eastbourne Gazette, 1 February 1922. (The picture had appeared with ‘The Quest at Eastbourne’ in 1921 with the caption ‘The Mayor talking to Lady Shackleton on the Bridge’.)
Family photograph – Eastbourne Gazette, 17 August 1921 (copy appearing in 1 February 1922).
‘To Sir Ernest Shackleton’ – Eastbourne Chronicle, 13 August 1921.
Eastbourne Gazette, dates as noted above.
Eastbourne Chronicle, dates as noted above.
Roland Huntford, Shackleton, Abacus History 1985.
Websites, as noted above and various others to confirm details.